Work on the Culture to Get the Technology Right

Updated: Jan 29

Technology - both a blessing a curse. We can't live with it and we can't live without it. Employees and organizations are both adapting to the fast pace of technology and increasing expectations that technology must be cutting edge (employees expect this) and that all employees should engage with every new technology and run with it (companies expect this). Those two expectation are often at odds.

We recently met with the leadership of a national company in the service industry to discuss a frustrating trend with their intranet users. Despite several major technology upgrades, content managers and many employees were giving feedback that the site was "old fashioned," needed better search functionality and didn't offer all of the materials they needed (even though materials were oftentimes posted multiple times in different areas of the site). The company had another major upgrade scheduled in 2018, but what to do in the meantime? In the end, they implemented a content management plan that was more efficient and effective for content managers, improved intuitive search and created a spirit of shared ownership among all user groups.

A few days later, we met with another global organization, this one in manufacturing, that was introducing several new technologies in all of its locations. Many employees felt threatened that the new technologies would detract from their value. That organization initiated small-group meetings led by technology ambassadors so that employees could ask all of the questions they needed in order to being feeling more comfortable.

What Spark finds from our work with our clients and our benchmarking partners is that the culture around technology in general is as important, if not more important, than the technology itself. Successful digital strategies are built on strong digital cultures that stress collaboration, innovation, the opportunity to be better organized and interact with coworkers in different geographies.

These are simplified examples, but they illustrate how complicated it can be to launch and sustain use of technologies. Sometimes, you need for employees to work with what they have. Other times, you need for employees to actively engage with new technologies. Usually, both situations are happening at the same time at the same company.

What is the culture around technology at your organization? Do people see technology as enabling them to do better and be better, or as a detractor to their ability to do their job or get ahead? Or do they see it as a way to be more effective, and as providing opportunities to make more meaningful contributions with a potentially greater positive impact?

Here are four best practices for helping build a strong digital culture:

  1. Have you launched a technology, but still need to increase daily usage? Think about what has been communicated so far and how it's been communicated. Is there a bigger vision that the new technology supports - are employees aware of this connection? Was the information cascaded? While cascading is the most-often used technique for all communications, it doesn't always work, especially for those who are on the floor. (2/3 of employees say they don't know their companies priorities.) Find out who the star users currently are for the technology and learn what they're using it for and why. Many times, people who are engaging with social collaboration technologies use them to share a passion, like sharing best practices for working safely, or a new idea they feel can improve the business. Social collaboration tools are an opportunity for employee to tie their personal passion, whether that's safety or creativity, in with the goals of the organization. In some cases, clients we work with tie page views for a department's or group's sites to performance. In these cases, ambassadors and employees are happy to receive recognition or additional tools and resources that will help them improve their reach and impact.

  1. Do you have a culture that "blames" current technology? Try performing some research to uncover what would engage employees with the technology. With one client, we shared with a particularly resistant group best practices that would improve the visibility of their messaging and strategies so that they could reach more employees. With another client, we shared best practices that helped improve the accuracy, and therefore, brand integrity of the brand with customers. When employees understand that technology can make their lives easier, help them delight customers and make them stand out in performance - that moves the needle.

  1. Do employees feel as if leadership doesn't care about their technology use? Too often, employees don't think that their leaders or even their direct managers care about the technology they use. Most of the time, the opposite is true. Leadership cares very much due to the time and resources invested in maintaining and improving the company's digital plan. For major technology launches or major milestones, we recommend that a senior leader join online brainstorming sessions or interact with employees via the technology so that people can see the interaction online - both are ways to validate the technology. Managers who discourage the use of technology can undermine larger corporate efforts to capture and share knowledge of employees who are the closest to the business daily, so we also would recommend having a plan for ensuring leaders get the big picture.

  1. What tools exist that you could make a priority now? One senior executive shared that he switched a standing weekly meeting from a conference call to a video conference. He said they were able to accomplish their agenda in half the time, and that being able to see people allowed for a more connected, human feeling in the group. That's important because it's key to humanize technology as much as possible. It's always helpful for people to know that on the other end of the video call, email, social collaboration tool, intranet, etc., are other people who have the similar, if not the same, goals as they do.